What is a Gather Step in Basketball?

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The NBA is conceivably lenient regarding certain rules for the sake of entertainment and showmanship. Search YouTube for “NBA uncalled travels,” and you’ll get hundreds of video compilations with the most egregious non-calls known to men. Well, traveling violations are not created equal nowadays. 

Because of the “gather step” rule, some footwork that looked like a traveling violation is considered legal. What is a gather step in basketball, and is the NBA the only league that allows it?

What is a Gather Step in BasketballWhat is a Gather Step in Basketball?

The “gather step” is also called the “zero step” in basketball. It is a concept related to legal footwork upon a dribble setup or before getting a shot off. Many young hoopers want to know how to gather step, so if you’re one of those, these are the things to keep in mind:

  • As soon as the player picks up his dribble, he or she must establish a pivot foot. The pivot foot is the anchor foot for the next move.
  • After the player stops the dribble and establishes a pivot foot, the first step after that is the gather step. This is also called the zero step since the player can take two more legal steps before attempting a shot or pass.
  • Therefore, the gather step doesn’t count in the player’s legal two-step limit after picking up the dribble.

It’s also important to note that the above rules are specific to the NBA. Some leagues may interpret the “gather step” rule differently, which will be elaborated on in later sections.

Is a Gather Step a TravelIs a Gather Step a Travel?

Well, technically, the gather step is a legal move, so it’s not a traveling violation. However, a league’s interpretation of the gather step rules may vary and can, therefore, be a source of confusion. 

For example, the NBA explicitly allows the gather step and allows the extra two steps that may look like a traveling violation. The league’s interpretation of the gather step frequently drives fans, and occasionally even coaches and players, insane. 

In the NBA and most professional basketball leagues, a player who has picked up their dribble can take two legal steps before they must release the ball, either through a pass or a shot attempt.

It is only considered a traveling violation if a player takes more than two steps after picking up their dribble and before passing or shooting. This is why players must carefully execute their moves within the bounds of the rules and the allowed steps, which include the gather step and the two legal steps that follow.

Therefore, the gather step is not a travel violation, but what a player does after can lead to a traveling violation if not executed properly within the game’s rules.

Is a Gather Step Allowed on All Basketball LeaguesIs a Gather Step Allowed on All Basketball Leagues?

Yes, the gather step is allowed in the NBA and FIBA, but the interpretations differ. However, the gather step is not allowed in the high school and college levels.

As previously mentioned, the NBA has a loose interpretation of the rule, giving way to plays that may look like an apparent traveling violation for some.

In FIBA-sanctioned games, the gather step is also legal, but the refs have a stricter interpretation. For example, case 1, under “pivoting” rules on the World Association of Basketball Coaches website, states

“After getting possession of the ball on the move (progressing) a player can now take two steps before stopping, shooting, or passing.

“When the ball is gathered/received when one foot touching the floor (upon dribble or after pass while progressing), NEXT foot (AFTER gather) to touch the floor is first step.”

As you can see, the FIBA gather step is a much more stringent interpretation. In the NBA, counting the zero or gather step only starts when the player can’t legally dribble the ball, such as when his hand is already under the ball. Otherwise, if the dribble is live (hand on the side of the ball or behind it), the counting of steps does not officially begin.

Since the gather step is not legal in lower competition levels, how do high school and college rules call the gather step? It’s essentially an automatic traveling violation. 

In these competitions, the pivot foot is the first to contact the ground after the dribble has been picked up. Therefore, there is NO zero step. A player can only release that foot when he gets rid of the ball, whether through passing or shooting. 

What is NBA Gather Step RulesWhat is NBA Gather Step Rules?

The modern NBA gather step rule change occurred in 2009. The gather step has always existed in the league back in the 50s and 60s, but the “gather” is included as the first in the two-step legal allowance.

In 2019, the NBA official rulebook redefined what a “gather is: 

a.) For a player who receives a pass or gains possession of a loose ball, the gather is defined as the point where the player gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.

b.) For a player who is in control of the ball while dribbling, the gather is defined as the point where a player does any one of the following:

1. Puts two hands on the ball, or otherwise permits the ball to come to rest, while he is in control of it;

2. Puts a hand under the ball and brings it to a pause; or

3. Otherwise gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.

Loosely translated, the referees don’t begin counting for the zero step until it’s evident that the player can’t dribble with the ball anymore. If continuing the dribble is still a possibility, the officials do not count these steps. 

This interpretation of the rule changes everything. It’s the primary reason some of the moves by superstars such as James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo appear to be traveling violations.

What Does a Gather Step Look LikeWhat Does a Gather Step Look Like?

NBA players are stretching the limits of the gather-step rule and some are better than others.

a.) For instance, here’s why James Harden’s Eurostep is not actually a travel, as defined by the NBA rules.

b.) In FIBA, here’s what the zero step looks like:

In the first sequence, the difference between FIBA and the NBA is that the former automatically counts the foot on the ground as the “zero” step. That’s not the case in the NBA, as long it’s still possible for the player to dribble.

c.) Giannis Antetokounmpo is another superstar whose overall game has significantly benefitted from the NBA’s “gather step” rules. How can anyone stop these long strides to the rim that basically allows three steps?

Wrapping Things Up: What is a Gather Step in Basketball?

The gather step in basketball stirs such controversy because every level of competition has different interpretations of the rule. The NBA outlines its own rules, while FIBA gather step has it a bit different. In high school and college basketball, the gather step doesn’t even exist! Can you see how this rule causes so much confusion?

So, what is a gather step in basketball? The gather step is that extra step a player can take as soon as he picks up the dribble. He cannot dribble the ball anymore but may only pass or shoot in this situation. The NBA counts the gather step as the “zero step,” which means the player can take two more legal steps before he releases the ball, sometimes creating the sense of a traveling violation.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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